Anna was waiting on the doorstep when Mary drew her car onto the front
forecourt of the pretty suburban home, and as soon as she saw her sister,
Sylva found her tiredness dissipating. She unfastened her seatbelt, pushing
open the door and hurrying across the gravel.
"Well, hello to the bride." She murmured, hugging the younger girl tightly. "It's good to see you, Ann."
"You too, sis." Anna smiled, returning the hug. "Though you might regret coming here. It's something of a warzone inside and I just realised that I've done nothing about the church flowers, so I'm all at sixes and sevens again."
"Flowers?" Sylva grimaced. "I remember the nightmare Copper had with organising those. She had to be so specific and she had to keep chasing them up about this or that."
"Yeah, that's sounding familiar." Anna said wryly, rubbing her temples. "But they've gotta be worth it and I want my day perfect, so there you go. I'm off to the florist."
"Want some company?" Sylva slipped her arm in her sister's. Anna looked surprised.
"You just flew eight hours - aren't you tired?"
"Yes, but not so tired that I can't help out my twin." Sylva dimpled. "Let me ditch my case inside and then I'll come give you a hand. Two heads are better than one, after all, and our two heads haven't gone together in a long while, so it might be fun. Besides, if I'm your maid of honour, I should be doing maid of honour things...right?"
"I guess I can't argue with that." Anna raised a tired smile. "Thanks, Sylvie. I knew things would be better when you got here."
"I'll catch you both later, then." Mary set Sylva's case down on the driveway, casting the girls a grin. "I have to go do my bit as mother of the bride and collect the rings from the engraver, so if either of you need me, I'll be at the hotel."
"Yeah, sure. Thanks for the lift, Mom." Sylva grinned.
"Never any trouble." Mary winked. "Bye Sylvie. Bye Annie. Happy shopping."
"Well, I better let you put your case inside." Anna glanced at the brown holdall, then sighed. "I'm sorry, I did mean to welcome you in a better way, but it's been a bit like this of late."
"You have a lot to organise." Sylva acknowledged, scooping up the bag and following her sister into the house. "It's okay. It's not far off now."
"No...it isn't." Anna agreed, and Sylva frowned at her sister's tone.
"Annie, is everything all right?"
"Huh?" Anna looked startled. Then she shrugged, offering another tired smile. "Oh. Yes, Sylvie, I'm fine. I'm just dog tired, that's all. I have the worst timed deadline in the world at work, and it's clashing with a lot of my wedding preparations. I'm determined to get it done before John and I get married, because I don't want anyone taking it on and messing it up when I go away. But we keep hitting snags with the equipment at work and it's making it all a bit tight."
"You need to unwind." Sylva dimpled, dropping the bag down into the hallway.
"That's what the honeymoon is for." Anna rolled her eyes. "Okay. Do you want a coffee before we go or are you all right? I can't believe what a bad hostess I am - I should have asked you that before."
"I'm fine. We can grab coffee out." Sylva shrugged. "My treat."
"You don't have to do that."
"Yes, I do." Sylva said firmly. "I don't see my sister enough as it is."
"Well, all right then." Anna shrugged. "There's a nice little coffee house not three blocks from the florists, so lets settle up the flower situation first and then go there...sound all right to you?"
"Sounds fine." Sylva nodded. "You know the city better than me, so lead the way!"
"So how was your flight in?" Anna asked, as she slid her key into the front door of the car, unlocking it. "Did Mom meet it all right? Asking her to go was something of a last minute deal."
"Yeah, she was there in perfect time." Sylva agreed, clambering into the passenger seat. "And she dropped Logan at the hotel, too, which was nice of her."
"Logan?" Anna looked surprised. "Do I know Logan?"
"No. He's...kinda my date." Sylva looked uncomfortable. "I'll introduce you tomorrow if you like."
"All right." Anna agreed. She grinned. "I figured you'd bring a date, actually. It wouldn't be you if you didn't."
"Right." Sylva agreed.
"So what's he like?"
"The usual. Tall, blond, handsome...good sense of humour." Sylva bit her lip, casting her sister a sidelong glance, but Anna's attention was on the road. "He's an old school friend of our road manager Aaron - you remember him? He came out for Copper and Aaron's wedding and, well...wound up moving back to Los Angeles after."
"They do say the best place to meet a beau is at a wedding." Anna noted absently.
"So they do." Sylva twisted her fingers together. "So how's your beau, speaking of love interests?"
"Working, today." Anna grimaced. "Which I should be too, I hasten to add. Just I can't get a damn thing done at work with the keyboard broken and the studio out. They said they'd get it fixed, but no joy so far. I brought the scripts home but I've major writer's block and my supervisor is pressing for a development review before I go away, too. It's a pain and a half, and he's a jerk."
"Not the ideal climate for wedding preps, huh?" Sylva asked sympathetically. Anna shook her head.
"You're telling me." She agreed. "Oh, dammit!" As she rammed her foot on the brake, narrowly avoiding a collision with a careless cyclist. "God, I swear that driving in this city is more likely to kill you than anything!"
"Annie, I know NYC is supposed to be the most stressful place to live, but sheesh, this isn't like you!" Sylva protested. "It's your wedding, honey, not the end of the world. If work doesn't get done, it doesn't. Your whole future happiness is a lot more important than that, and if they don't like it at your company, well, they can screw themselves! You're gonna give yourself a hernia if you stay this wound up!"
"I know, I know." Anna sighed. "I just want everything perfect, that's all. And I've never been able to coast the important stuff like you can without getting all worried about it, Syl. That's not me. If I could get this project done, at least then it'd be off my chest."
"Talk to Mom?" Sylva suggested. "I'd offer my help but composition isn't my department."
"That's not exactly how it works." Anna shook her head. "It's my project and cribbing help from Mom would be cheating. Not to mention plagiarism, probably. My supervisor's an asshole, I told you. If he thought I was doing that..."
"Well, sucks to your supervisor." Sylva shrugged. "But what I meant was, run it by her. Don't have to ask her to write it - just see what she thinks and if she can give you any inspiration to finish it. You know she knows her stuff and she's always been willing to help out before."
"Maybe." Anna responded. "Honestly, I've got so much to worry about at the moment that I'm starting to think the project won't get done, anyhow."
"You know, you've never reminded me of Dad before." Sylva pursed her lips. "Annie, you can work too hard, you know. Dad spent years doing that, and look what happened to him and Mom! You can't do everything or be everywhere, and your happiness is more important than a stupid deadline!"
"Oh, shut up. You have no idea." Anna snapped. Sylva's eyes widened in surprise, and Anna cursed.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry!" She exclaimed. "Just...take me with a pinch of salt at the moment, okay? I know you're right...just all these things are important to me. I daresay I'll think of something. I'm just trying to even it all out in my mind."
"Well, if you need to spill it to anyone, your sister is right here waiting." Sylva said gently. Anna pulled the car into a layby, casting her companion a small but genuine smile.
"I know that." She murmured. "She always has been, and that's why I'm so glad you're finally in New York."
"I'm glad that you're glad." Sylva dimpled.
"Hey, did Sammi get your flight? I thought she was coming on that one?"
"She..." Sylva bit her lip. She sighed. "Yes, she did."
"Good. Then that's one less person to worry about." Anna pushed open the driver's door. "Most everyone is here now. Did you hear about the total disaster of Mom and Dad ending up in the same hotel?"
"Yes, Mom mentioned it."
"Gave her the fright of her life, I think." Anna bit her lip. "But so far the hotel is still standing. I don't know how she feels about him these days, to be honest. I know Dad's pretty much cooled over the whole deal and is fine, but I don't see Mom so often as I do Dad. What do you think?"
"We don't talk about it, really." Sylva admitted. "Not when I see her. I think she's put it behind her, but other than that I couldn't say. She did say that both she and Dad are adults and will be at your wedding without fisticuffs, though. So I don't think you need to worry...they'll behave."
"Yeah, I guess so." Anna grimaced. "Okay. Well. Here we are. Coming in?"
* * * * * * * * * *
"This is crazy."
Jesta dropped the pile of microfilm reels down onto the desk with a bad-tempered thud, sinking back down into her seat. "My eyes are going square from looking through all of these, and they're telling me nothing except what a hotshot this bloke is. Well, I know that! That's why I'm hunting him down, for God's sake!"
She rammed the next reel onto the machine, winding it with more force than was necessary. "And I remember why I hate libraries. Why don't they stick this stuff on computers? It's not like I...hey, wait a minute! What's that?"
She pursed her lips, pausing the reel as something caught her eye. Scrolling back up the page, she squinted at the screen.
"Untimely Death of Film's Finest." She murmured. "Today the filming world was plunged into mourning by the news that well known director Esteban Santiago had lost his short battle with cancer. Dammit! He's dead already!"
She sat back in her chair, contemplating.
"This is just my luck." She muttered. "I finally track down my deadbeat Dad, only to discover that he's already snuffed it and I'm not going to get a cent out of him. That's just typical. I never seem to catch a break. God, what does it take to get what I'm owed around here?"
"Well, I suppose that, if he's dead, I might as well find out when and where he died, and more importantly, what happened to his money. I know he's a big deal in films. That much I've got already from these damn things. But that don't help me...I need something else."
She reached over to the printer, hitting the button to print off the page. "Maybe there's something useful in this article. Worth a shot, anyhow - and my eyes have had enough of the screen."
She snatched the sheet out of the printer, getting to her feet and slipping her bag over her shoulder. "I'm outta here. I need coffee and I'll be damned if I'm going to hunt through all those dusty boxes again to find out where these reels go. Someone else can do that - that's why they pay them, anyhow!"
Folding the paper in half, she sauntered out of the library and into the Los Angeles sunshine, making a beeline for a nearby coffee house. After ordering her drink and a doughnut, she secluded herself in a corner booth to read over what she'd discovered.
'Santiago, famous for box office smashes such as "The Wanderer" and
"Fallen Eagle" was diagnosed with a voracious cancer of the brain three
months ago. Withdrawing from both his business and public obligations, the
industry's most innovative director of the year three years running was never
far from people's thoughts. Most people who met him were entranced by his
charm and his down-to-earth friendliness. Always one to give a new star a
chance, it was Santiago who first discovered the acting potential of former
Hologram drummer Carmen "Raya" Alonso, whom he married shortly before the
birth of their first daughter, Elizabeth. Known as one of the most solid
and devoted couples in the business, Santiago often went on record to say
that his inspiration each day was his wife and his three children.
Throughout her husband's short illness, Carmen openly donated most of the proceeds from her most recent film to cancer research. Brave in public, sources close to the actress say that she is devastated by her husband's death. Santiago was at the pinnacle of his career when he was struck down. When told the news, fellow director Boris Carlton expressed his regrets at a talent cut short far too young.'
"Blech." Jesta dropped the sheet down onto the table, taking a sip of
coffee. "So everyone thought he was the cat's pyjamas, did they? I wonder
how many of them knew he had a daughter with some slut in England and just
took off and forgot about her? That wouldn't have made very pretty press.
She paused, considering.
"But if he left a widow - that Carmen woman - and children, maybe I've got a hope here after all. Surely, if she thought so much of him, she'd be gutted to know what he was up to behind the scenes. Or if she knows already, she'd probably do a lot to keep it hushed up. I wonder how much she'd pay. She must be loaded, with all his money plus whatever she makes in a film. I've heard of Carmen Santiago. She's a big deal these days. She must make a damn fortune. And so that's where I've got to look now. Forget Esteban. He's dead. Carmen's my target."
She tapped the piece of paper.
"I just have to find out how to reach her."
Prologue: April 1st,
Chapter One: Sylva's Request
Chapter Two: Samantha...and Jesta
Chapter Three: Flashback - Junior High
Chapter Four: In The Big Apple
Chapter Five: Flashback - Sammi's Eighth Birthday
Chapter Six: Flight
Chapter Seven: Anna
Chapter Eight: Flashback - The Martescu Home
Chapter Nine: Old Wounds
Chapter Ten: Jesta's Clue
Chapter Eleven: In Translation
Chapter Twelve: Flashback - Thick As Blood
Chapter Thirteen: A Friend In Need
Chapter Fourteen: Anna's Secret
Chapter Fifteen: Wedding Day
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback - First Kiss
Chapter Seventeen: Crossing The Line
Chapter Eighteen: Colin
Chapter Nineteen: Settling Up